Cheri Reviews Strawberry Summer by Melissa Brayden


It’s been a couple years since I read a book by Melissa Brayden. I’ve enjoyed a few of her older books but her newer books seemed to be filled with characters that sounded so much alike that I couldn’t have told them apart without dialogue tags. I’ve always thought the author was a good storyteller but that wasn’t enough for me anymore. So what changed my mind and got me to give it another try? I’d heard from a couple of friends that this book was different; the characters each had their own distinct voices. That’s it. That’s all it took. So I requested a copy from NetGalley and cautiously began.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Just because you’re through with your past, doesn’t mean it’s through with you.

Margaret Beringer didn’t have an easy adolescence. She hated her name, was less than popular in school, and was always cast aside as a “farm kid.” However, with the arrival of Courtney Carrington, Margaret’s youth sparked into color. Courtney was smart, beautiful, and put together—everything Margaret wasn’t. Who would have imagined that they’d fit together so perfectly?

But first loves can scar.

Margaret hasn’t seen Courtney in years and that’s for the best. But when Courtney loses her father and returns to Tanner Peak to take control of the family store, Margaret comes face-to-face with her past and the woman she’s tried desperately to forget. The fact that Courtney has grown up more beautiful than ever certainly doesn’t help matters.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that this book takes over as my favorite of Brayden’s books. I was a huge fan of Heart Block but this one steals the prize.

The characters were a joy to read and get to know. Maggie’s family is loving, supportive, and charming. They’re the family we all wish we had, through good times and bad. Maggie is flawed and mostly self-aware, even though she counters it with denial, she’s not maddening about it. I was never overcome with the desire to shake her or Courtney and yell at them for making stupid choices or not talking to each other.

The first person POV was well-done and Maggie was a very real, human, complex character. It was a joy to be with her as she grew and dealt with joy and pain. As a matter of fact, all of the characters that we spend more than a few minutes with had depth and this made Maggie’s experience – our experience in her head – more engaging. I also think the structure of the story was a big success. Stories told in two different time frames can give a reader whiplash but that’s not an issue here at all.

There were even some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, which is always a bonus. And an even bigger bonus is that I don’t believe I had a single bullshit-calling moment. All in all, this book has everything that I require for a spot on the “I’m in a funk and need to re-read a favorite book” list. And that’s something I didn’t expect when I started reading it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bold Strokes Books for the opportunity to read and review this one. I’m very glad they did.

You can download a sample or purchase Strawberry Summer by clicking here.

Corey, Kitty, and Sequella Review Catalyst by Fletcher DeLancey


Sequella: Wow, another sequel in the Chronicles of Alsea already. Amazing! Unfortunately it is still sitting untouched on my eReader.

Corey: What’s wrong with you? I’ve already read Catalyst, re-read Vellmar the Blade, and re-read Catalyst again. Or at least my favorite bits.

Sequella: Show-off! Real life is happening.

Kitty: And some nice alien bits there be. Also, Corey, you sound like a judgmental speed reader.

Corey: But… This is it! The novel that fills in all the adventures of Captain Ekatya Serrado and Dr. Lhyn Rivers out in the Universe while Lancer Tal and Bondlancer Salomen Opah were finding each other in the Without a Front books. And the framing is perfect: The first three days of the Alsean version of a honeymoon (“Alsean bonding break”) for Tal and Salomen in which family share stories –

Kitty: – and everyone avoids explaining to little brother Jaros why Tal’s neck looks like a treecat attacked her.

Sequella: So we get Tal and Salomen time? That makes me want to chuck real life out of the window and start reading immediately!

Corey: Right. Okay. So on one hand, all the shifting relationships amongst Ekatya, Tal, Lhyn, Lead Templar Lanaril Satran, and Lead Guard Vellmar are explored in the moment. On the other hand, Ekatya and Lhyn each share a wrenching story about their lives after the Voloth war described in the first Alsean book The Caphenon. A very early scene in which Ekatya helps Lhyn survive a PTSD-like episode lets us know she experienced something traumatic. And yes, it turns out to be VERY traumatic. Whew.

Sequella: How Sci-Fi is the book. Do we get new races? Societies?

Corey: Some of the tech aspects of FTL travel are explained (and felt), and you definitely get a dose of Space Opera political shenanigans and a military-style raid on a planet. Not so much world-building. I enjoyed the action, but my re-reads were all about the aftermath. So emotionally intense.

Sequella: Is this a book mainly about Ekatya and Lhyn, or is a new couple introduced, like it happens so often in Lesfic?

Kitty: Ahem. Dr. Wells.

Corey: Oh stop it, Kitty. You are so homosexist. Who knows who the ship’s chief surgeon is into? And there’s so much to learn about Ekatya, Lhyn, Tal. Salomen, Lanaril, and Vellmar… who needs new couples? One of my favorite moments is when Salomen points out to Tal that the Lancer doesn’t get to decide how to handle the connection between herself and Ekatya… That is something that involves all four women, including Lhyn. And the tensions between Ekatya and Lanaril are nasty intense. So awkward when your wife’s best friend makes you uncomfortable. Frankly, these books are developing into the ultimate friends-and-lovers-and-tyrees emotional mash-up. I adore it all.

Sequella: What about other kick-ass female characters?

Kitty: Dr. Wells…

Corey: Yes, Dr. Wells. But also so much more Lhyn, who is a warrior in her own way. I craved even more Lhyn. We finally get her perspective, but during such unusual and harrowing circumstances. Really, I wish I knew Ekatya and Lhyn as well as I feel I know Tal and Salomen.

Sequella: So Kitty and Corey, who of you liked the book better? Kitty, how many bookmarks did you place?

Corey: Oh, don’t get her started. Me, I highlighted 20 quotes that just made me squee and bookmarked 6 scenes for their (non-sexual) intensity. Basically, they make me cry or clutch my heart. The first time I read the book, the action sequences carried me along but I came back to re-read the emotions.

Kitty: I bookmarked two make-out scenes.

Corey: Sigh. Is that a spoiler? Bottom line, Sequella, is that life may be happening but you need to pause and go visit Alsea RIGHT NOW.

You can download a sample or purchase Catalyst by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Far from Home by Loreli Brown (Goodreads Review)


I’m really torn on the rating of this one. I think it’s better than just three stars and it’s the characters and the inclusion of and handling of anorexia bumped it to a pretty solid 3.5 for me. I debated on whether I should round up or down – since Goodreads seems determined to never allow for .5 stars – and while there were a few things that really pulled me out of the story on numerous occasions, the strength of my emotional connection with the characters pushed me to round up.

I thought that Rachel felt like a genuine and complex character and, even though the book is told in first person POV, I was comfortable with my level of understanding of Pari, too. For me, the most compelling part of the book was the way Rachel’s anorexia was handled. I don’t know anyone – at least I don’t think I do – who has suffered with the illness but I feel like I’ve gained some insight into the condition and a bit of what it must be like. I thought the author did a great job of keeping it in the forefront but never in any sort of preachy way that may have felt forced or contrived.

So what were these things that pulled me out of the story and prevented me from giving it a solid 4 stars or more? Well, the first person POV used with present tense was the first thing. It didn’t mess me up all the time and I mostly got used to it but everyone once in a while – YANK! – right out. But probably the biggest thing was some of the word choices. There were times when phrases or passages seemed like they had the wrong words mixed in. One example was something along the lines of Rachel noticing that Pari was tired and the phrase “she could tell by the weariness of her cheeks” was used. Or words really close to that – I don’t have the book open in front of me but it was the weariness of her cheeks. That pulled me out of the story so badly that I had to text a friend to make sure it wasn’t just me because I don’t know how cheeks can look weary. There were a few places where I felt like the author was trying to make a passage feel more poetic but the actual words didn’t do it for me and I spent more time wondering what words would have made it flow better or make more sense than I did being immersed in the scene. Things like that.

I was typing up the last sentence of this little review when I remembered that I wish so hard that there had been another chapter or three between the last chapter and the epilogue. How wonderful would it have been to experience what they went through to get to that epilogue? I’m not the sort of person who needs everything all wrapped up with a bow but damn, what a bunch of important things to not address. At least that’s how I feel about it.

So after reading all this you may be wondering why I still rounded up… It’s the story, the characters, and how I felt while reading it. Also I didn’t see any typos so that’s a bonus.

Cheri Reviews Poppy Jenkins (Goodreads Review)


I loved this book. First off, the characters are just wonderful. Except maybe Sam, I didn’t like her but I suppose my dislike for her still means she was well done. Poppy and her family and friends were lovely and each featured character felt unique and real. Rosalyn was tougher to connect with – being that she’s a good guy and a bad guy all at once for much of the book. Being, myself, a person who often comes across as unlikable, I felt a bit more for her than maybe some other readers. But one thing is undeniable, Poppy and Rosalyn have some kick-ass chemistry.

I would rate this one a 4.5 if Goodreads offered the choice but there were a couple things that prevent me from rounding it up to a full 5 stars. But I had to debate it for a while. This romance had just about everything for me and the author’s voice, writing style, and sense of humor will keep me coming back for more.

I definitely recommend this book to any lover of romance novels.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Cheri Reviews The Roundabout by Gerri Hill

Like all Gerri Hill stand alone romances, I went into The Roundabout with mid-range hopes. Her books are rarely stellar but they’re almost always enjoyable in a “light, easy to read with moderately engaging characters who I want to see succeed and be happy” sort of way. The description of this one, which I’ll add just below, seemed like it might be like a reverse of one of my absolute favorites from the author, No Strings. That was enough to make me put away the other two books I was reading and focus on this one. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Megan Phenix—bar and grill owner in gay-friendly Eureka Springs—is labeled as “playing hard to get” and finds herself the object of much unwanted attention. If only she were seeing someone…maybe the women would leave her in peace.

Leah Rollins thinks fifty is too young to retire, so instead, she opens a store in the touristy shopping district of Eureka Springs next to the popular Phenix Grill. She soon learns that Megan Phenix is a bit on the grumpy side as they spar over parking spaces and anything else they can find to argue about. When Leah catches the attention of the multitude of single lesbians in town, she searches for a way out. Could the grumpy grill owner next door be the answer to her problems?

Megan and Leah strike an unlikely alliance and conspire to rid themselves of the unwanted attention by fake dating. Can they pull it off?

As they pretend to date and convince everyone in town that they really are a couple, the pretense becomes harder to hold on to. But there’s just one problem…they don’t really like each other.

There seemed to be some potential for a pleasant reading experience but, for me, it never panned out. I had some problems with this book that covered the plot, the characters, and some editing issues. Two of the biggest problems I had with The Roundabout were Megan being a completely unlikable character for nearly the entire book and the whole Facebook/blackmail scenario. First, Megan is constantly rude to everyone – family included. To call her grumpy is an understatement. I was probably 75% through the book before she acted like a decent human being. I don’t know why anyone would want to be friends with her, let alone ask her out even if she was the youngest available lesbian in town. And she treats Leah terribly while Leah, for a reason I don’t understand, is nice to her and doesn’t seem to mind the treatment. She says a few times that she enjoys annoying her but I don’t know what she gets out of the interactions.

I felt like very little time was spent letting the characters get to know each other and develop the chemistry that they ended up with. There was lots of space devoted to telling the reader, often in the same basic words, about Leah not knowing what she was going to sell in her shop – right up until it was time to open – and how Mary Beth was crazy or how Megan was pissed about the parking situation but not much showing positive, one-on-one experiences with the two leads. It seemed like Leah decided that Megan was cute and that was enough to move forward. Megan spent a lot of time complaining about everything and, after the attraction started to feel mutual, saying that “this can’t happen.” I never felt connected to the characters or to their relationship.

The second thing that I struggled with was the plot arc dealing with blackmail photos posted on Facebook. I found it disturbing and creepy that everyone except Megan found it funny and cute that someone stripped, posed, and photographed a passed out, drunk woman and then repeatedly posted pictures – each more revealing than the next – publicly in order to blackmail her into going on a date with her. To have even Megan’s sister, a friend of the blackmailer, tell her to just go out with her and maybe she’ll stop, felt so dirty and wrong to me. I found nothing funny about the situation and it made me feel negatively toward every person who thought it was okay to do something like that or to not do whatever they could to make it stop.

Lastly, and these things may not bother most people but they were pretty distracting to me, there were lots of repeated words and information. About halfway through, I started looking words and phrases up to see how many times they were used. If I took a shot of tequila, the drink that got Megan into the blackmail situation, every time the word “smoky” was used to describe Leah’s eyes, I’d have ended up in the hospital. Like I said, stuff like that may not bother you as a reader but, for me, they kill an otherwise good story. Where I was already having a tough time caring about the characters, it made the experience even worse.

I wouldn’t put this one on my re-read list but I will keep reading Gerri Hill’s books. Her hit-to-miss ratio with me is still pretty good when it comes to her romance novels.

You can download a sample or purchase The Roundabout by clicking here.

I received a copy of The Roundabout from the publisher for review.

Cheri Reviews Cold to the Touch by Cari Hunter

Cari Hunter has done it again. I think this is my favorite of her works. I may say that after I read each book but it doesn’t make the statement less true. It means she continues to push the envelope with regard to the crimes and the characters and she does a fantastic job with it.

This episode of The Dark Peak series has Sanne, Nelson, and the rest of the crew chasing down a vicious serial killer. A killer who doesn’t get much media play until a more prominent member of the community is taken out. Meg is also dealing with some serious family issues and our favorite non-couple have their own set of problems that need to be worked out. Speaking of the romantic parts of the book, I swore at and declared my strong dislike for one character in particular several times. Ok, maybe two characters but I have to say that I was pleased with the way the book ended. That’s not giving away too much, is it?

I enjoyed the case, the characters, and the relationship. I liked it all. Combine that with the author’s fantastic writing skills and the superb editing and proofreading and it’s a winner! I was surprised, though, by just how bloody and graphic it was. I know that all of Hunter’s books have some blood and guts in them but this one seemed to take it to a new level. It wasn’t anything that I’d not seen loads of times in mainstream crime novels or thrillers but I guess I wasn’t expecting it. Honestly, it made me appreciate the writing just that much more. There were no parts of any crime scene descriptions that felt intentionally over the top or gratuitous and Sanne’s reactions to them were easy for me to relate to.

That’s probably one of the best things about this series: I can relate to the main characters and feel for them on a level that sometimes takes me by surprise. I like Meg and I can feel for her and understand her as a character but Sanne… Sanne moves me emotionally. I want to hold her and comfort her and protect her. I could go on and on but I won’t. What I will do is tell you, dear reader, that if you enjoy mysteries or thrillers or crime novels, you won’t be disappointed.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of Cold to the Touch by clicking here.